Telford Taylor, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, professor of law at Columbia, and author of several books of both historical and legal interest (including Sword and Swastika and Nuremberg and Vietnam), has produced a study of the Munich conference of 1938 which is both massive and curiously disappointing. If the adjective ""definitive"" indicates a work in which no fact is considered too insignificant for ponderous weighing and judgment then what Professor Taylor calls his ""political-diplomatic-military"" history deserves that questionable encomium. A more careful and painstaking gathering of evidence on Munich has not been attempted. True, much of Taylor's account of the rise of Nazism and the developing crisis over Czechoslovakia is heavy going: whether the reader is wading through the endless in-fighting of the British government and diplomatic corps, or reviewing Taylor's basically sound argument that the Allies would have been better off fighting a war in 1938 along with Czechoslovakia than they were without her in 1939, the facts are close-packed and only rarely does an editorial comment or a piece of human interest break through. Nonetheless, for those who know nothing about Munich, this is unquestionably the most balanced and detailed account.
The informed reader, however, will find nothing new here for all the important facts are already known. Indeed, the author appears to apologize in advance for his lack of originality, stating in his introduction that ""nothing of great importance was decided at Munich. . . . Once the conference had been called the outcome was inevitable. Thus. . . there is no suspense in an account of the conference itself."" At the outset, then, the reader is forced to question the validity of the entire undertaking. At the end Taylor's purpose does become clear: he has marshaled his facts to argue that while Munich has been taken as a symbol of the inevitable evil of the policy followed there, appeasement as such is not to be condemned. Rather, its adoption at Munich was the mistake: ""Munich. . . is a patent and historically valid symbol of the dangers of not facing up to unpleasant realities."" Despite Taylor's labors, this distinction between appeasement and ""not facing up"" to reality is likely to leave most critics of appeasement unmoved. And leaving aside Taylor's habit of using terms like ""historically valid"" as if they had meaning, one can only remark that his thesis, like his facts, is old hat.